- The Washington Times - Friday, June 17, 2011

If most of the Washington Nationals couldn’t recall their last six-game winning streak, it wouldn’t be for lack of an apt memory. Only three members of their current 25-man roster were around, and played, the last time they reeled off that many.

It had been 620 days since the Nationals accomplished the feat. Ian Desmond was a rookie call-up, Michael Morse a late-inning replacement in left field. Ryan Zimmerman played third base, and Adam LaRoche played first — for the Atlanta Braves.

And rookie second baseman Danny Espinosa was sitting at home after playing an entire season with Single-A Potomac. Thursday night, his team forced to extra innings after closer Drew Storen’s second blown save of the season, Espinosa put his mark on Washington’s current six-game winning streak with a three-run, walk-off shot into the Nationals’ bullpen.

By the time he rounded third, gleefully tossed his helmet aside in front of the celebration scrum and felt the Gatorade bath from Desmond and Roger Bernadina, Espinosa and the Nationals had swept the St. Louis Cardinals with a 7-4 victory. They haven’t lost in a week.

“It feels good to be a part of a team that, we’re turning things around,” Espinosa said. “Losing isn’t acceptable in this clubhouse, throughout the entire clubhouse. No one wants to lose and no one accepts it, so it’s very gratifying to have this going.

“We’re just playing so well right now, and things are really going our way. It’s just so fun to play.”

As the Nationals (33-36) stumbled to nine games below .500 just a week ago, there were plenty of things that did not go right for them. Reliever Sean Burnett was the prime example of such plight. Over his previous eight appearances, the left-hander had allowed four earned runs and five of 10 inherited runners to score in just five innings pitched.

And while there were plenty of mistakes mixed in, there also were close pitches that weren’t called his way and ground balls that were an inch or two out of an infielder’s reach. There were pivotal situations that slipped out of his grasp and had the reliever looking for any semblance of his old confidence and effectiveness.

Brought in for the top of the 10th Thursday night, Burnett was tasked with left-handed Colby Rasmus, whom he got to ground out. But in a show of confidence, Burnett was then allowed to face Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman — all right handers. A walk to Holliday aside, Burnett got Berkman looking on an outside pitch, one that, perhaps was a bit too outside.

“There was a couple pitches I thought could have went either way that I didn’t get,” Burnett said. “With all the stuff that’s gone on this year, I deserved a pitch maybe a little off. I made some good pitches before that that could have went either way and they didn’t, so to get one was all right.”

His offense did the rest, after another splendid start by John Lannan, who has a 1.08 ERA in his past five outings.

One night after the Nationals tagged Cardinals pitching for four home runs in a 10-0 victory, they added four more Thursday. They started with back-to-back shots from Jayson Werth and Roger Bernadina to lead off the game  — the first pair in franchise history to accomplish the feat since Brad Wilkerson and Jose Vidro did it for Montreal in 2002 — and Laynce Nix added his 10th homer in the sixth. Espinosa’s blast, his 12th, finished the sweep of St. Louis.

Throughout the season’s first two months, the Nationals kept insisting the hits would come. Finally, they’re here.

In the three-game series, the Nationals pounded out 38 hits and scored 25 runs. They raised their batting average from .229 to .235 and moved to 5½ games out in the NL wild card race. The Baltimore Orioles visit Nationals Park starting Friday, and another sweep would put them at .500.

“We talked it into existence, but that’s what you have to do,” Nix said. “Our pitching’s been great, and when we can swing the bats well and take the pressure off them, that really helps everything.

“It kind of feels like the early stages of [playoff] teams [I’ve been on] where we’ve got to convince ourselves and believe that we’re capable of that and we are. This team has a good makeup and is really versatile, especially with how young the guys are and the track record of the veteran players. When we keep playing well and keep scoring runs like this, beating good teams, we’ll start realizing we can compete — and should compete and win these games.”

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